Friday, November 6, 2015

Spinning For the First Time

On Wednesday, I had my first flight lesson in over several weeks. It was kind of long-anticipated, because I'd done my stall lesson at the start of October, and the next one that ended up being cancelled until this week was the 'spin' lesson. This time, I made sure to take my new Sony HD camera to record all of it. The video below is the result (the camera, like a GoPro, is suction-cupped to the windshield). The spin is shown in the last minute of it.

A couple of notes: The video isn't the entire thing. Unfortunately, due to the vibrations of the fuselage, it kept falling off. I replaced it twice during the record time (the falling down parts are edited out) and after the spin starts, it fell off again and ended up under the seat, so I just gave up in order to focus on the lesson altogether. That's why the raw video was only twenty minutes long, edited down to 7 minutes, and only one spin is shown.

I wasn't too worried about the lesson or what to expect, considering I now knew how a stall felt (undramatic, simple). We flew northwest, until we were essentially parallel to the Ottawa River as it heads that way, and over northern Aylmer. As the video describes, the plane was put into a stall by increasing the angle of attack on the wings - pitching upwards - while keeping the engine RPM at 1700 (a speed at which the wings have insufficient thrust to provide lift at the greater angle). Angle of attack simply just refers to the angle the leading edge of the wing is 'attacking' (moving through) the air horizontally. The stall warning comes on at a certain pitch and speed, and as that happens, my instructor, who in the video is first demonstrating the whole thing to me, greatly pitches higher to create the stall.

If you have the volume up high enough, you might hear him tell me about how he will use the left rudder. As soon as he stalled the plane, he applied massive left rudder, turning the plane greatly to the left. That caused one wing to be entirely stalled and have drag, while the other suddenly had lift, causing the plane to roll sideways and then pitch virtually straight down. Massive yaw to the left in a stall. The result is a spin.

Having not expected much drama, i.e., G-force or pressure, I was taken by surprise. As the video shows, we spun downwards in a slight corkscrew motion. The surprise for me was the G-force in yawing around, sideways, and then down. The entry into the spin, going into the incipient stage, had me yelling "Oh shoot!" in surprise. My instructor calmly says "Power idle" as he describes his movements to recover.

At that moment, the camera fell. As it filmed the floor, we stopped spinning and just continued, stalled, downwards. You can hear the engine RPM go up as it fades to black. We're recovering from the stall and flying again. At that moment, my arms felt ridiculously heavy as G-force weighed me in my seat. The experience was a lot more dramatic than I expected.

I underestimated how it would feel because of everything I read: Speed is constant, not erratic, and kind of lazy; forces are 'above normal' but consistent. Cessna 172s are extremely balanced aircraft, easy to recover (they're also, pointedly, spin-certified). We'd be recovering from the edge of the first stage in spin development, not doing the whole thing (there are three stages - Incipient stage, Fully Developed, and recovery, with 'fully developed' lasting as long as six spins). We spun about three times.

I kind of know how it felt to be a GoPro on my old AR.Drone when it fell out of the sky, except that it fell a bit more erratically.

That video shows up to the beginning of the fully developed stage before it fell. After he demonstrated, we did two more of these spins - one with the two of us doing it together (I forgot half of what he'd explained the first time due to surprise) and the last with me recovering largely on my own. It's relatively simple - keep the yoke (control column) back, reduce power to idle, apply opposite (so right) rudder until the spin stops, then back to neutral, put the yoke slightly forward, add power, then pull back to return to climbing. Keeping the yoke back helps put the plane in a more horizontal position after it stop spinning, and then putting it forward ensures the angle of attack isn't too great on the wings, avoiding a second stall. The power gives the thrust and therefore speed, so you can start climbing back up.

I didn't feel too good afterwards, but that was largely because my instructor almost immediately went on to demonstrate a spiral for the next lesson, next week. It sounds similar to a spin, but it isn't except in the sense that you're flying in an ever-smaller circle while also descending. There's no rolling, and almost no G-force, yet your speed is increasing as the bank angle gets steeper and steeper until the plane either disintegrates under the strain or you hit the ground.

I'm glad I got this video, and I intend on filming the rest of my flight lessons like this (though I'll find a different method of camera application to the plane than suction-cup). It's quite amazing to see the Quebec countryside spinning below, straight ahead like that. We were at least 3,500 feet up in order to recover from this, and thankfully, I won't have to do this again in my lessons (or the flight test). The only thing is that I may feel that I should review and do more in the future, to remember the proper steps in recovering (and, as other pilots say, to entirely get used to the sensation to the point it's no more uncomfortable than any other flight maneuver). Something my instructor mentioned that was interesting and made sense was that people who crash from spins aren't those who inadvertently enter one and immediately try to recover, but rather those who intentionally cause a spin to show their passengers; usually the weight distribution is off, and recovery has a different nature, takes longer, and/or isn't possible.

Of anyone around me that I know, most of them don't even like flying or heights to begin with, so I highly, highly doubt I'll ever get the inclination to intentionally induce a spin just to show off. In fact, probably never. No, never. That can be left to the aerobatic pilots.

I think I will want to practice a spin again in the future, just to ensure I can recover from it, but otherwise, I think this picture will do for me more than not.
Managed to figure out that the road from top to bottom of the image is Highway 148, with the one coming in from the left is Chemin Alary.

That was one "spin class" to remember.

Red Cloud